Ricochet is officially off the air as of August 8, 2001, although some users might have been able to eke out connections a day or two after that. The service built up to 51,000 users but was too difficult to expand; details are noded under Metricom.

Pluses: WIRELESS! Imagine doing all your work from any random coffee house far from the office -- cool! Golden Gate Park was another frequently quoted example. Plus, at 128 Kbit/second, it was faster than any conventional modem.

Problems: It cost $75 per month -- plus $300 for the modem -- and could only cover particular cities (I'm told my division at work would have bought Ricochet if it had covered enough ground). Cities that Ricochet covered in the end: Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C.

Companies like Usurf America and ArrayComm are rolling out services similar to Ricochet, but there's no industrywide effort to build anything like it. The closest things are "3G cellular," which continues to get delayed because nobody outside Japan gives a damn about it, and wireless LANs (IEEE 802.11), which won't work for outdoor transmission the way Ricochet did. The Palm VII and the Blackberry pager are nice, but Ricochet ran on your PC, with all the screen colors, disk space, keyboard comfort and monitor size that implies.

A revival of Ricochet is theoretically possible, depending on who bought Metricom's assets out of bankruptcy (the buyer won't be revealed until August 20, 2001. Ricochet's users are known to be a passionate lot, so service reseller Wireless WebConnect Inc. is encouraging them to stay vocal in hopes of proving the technology has faithful users (think Amiga, I guess). There's also a grass-roots effort calling itself newricochet.com that had hoped to buy a portion of the old network but was shut out of Metricom's bankruptcy auction, which required a $50,000 cash deposit to attend.

It's kind of like a letter-writing campaign to revive a TV show. And we all know those things never work ... right?.

-- News reports accessible at http://www.wwc.com/press, also CNet's News.com report of 8/16/01.
-- Metricom's last 10-K report.